How do medical grade supplements differ from OTC supplements?

Dr Leisa

I’m asked all the time, “How do medical grade supplements differ from OTC, or over-the-counter supplements?” Supplements you buy in a doctor’s office, are much different than OTC products you may get in pharmacies, health-food stores, discount warehouse stores, or even online.

First, over-the-counter supplements are not regulated by the government. The FDA regulates medical or pharmaceutical grade supplements. Recently, it has been found that some gluten-free OTC supplements, actually contained gluten. Most are also made with fillers. Another issue, was that some actually contained less amounts of product in the capsules than was reported in the ingredients. One didn’t even have the ingredient that was listed on the label. OTC and MLM companies spend millions of dollars on marketing and packaging. Although these companies are popular, it doesn’t mean they’re the best for you.

Patients will tell me they are taking the best supplements they could find at a local store or online. I always ask them to bring them to the office. I call it the brown bag consult. During that consult, I look at each and every bottle and its ingredients. I tell them that their products aren’t doing them the good they think they are. I’m able to confirm this with a micronutrient blood test. It shows exactly what is being absorbed into the body. With patients taking these OTC supplements, levels are shown to reflect their poor absorption. Many patients have also been taking the supplements for a long time. Even taking them over time, low grade supplements do not work.

Another major way medical grade supplements differ from OTC supplements is the form of the actual vitamin. In many cases, there are different forms of a single vitamin. The OTC brands generally use synthetic cheap forms. I was asked to do a TV spot a few years ago on the dangers of synthetic forms of some vitamins. Whole food sources of vitamins are best. Also, just because the numbers of milligrams on the label is right, it does not necessarily mean that the form of that vitamin is right for you. With medical grade supplements, a doctor can be sure that what you’re purchasing is the right form for you and your condition. These supplements may cost a little more, but they’re prescribed properly.

Another important factor is the concentration. The ratios of specific ingredients are very important, and not always correct in the OTC brands. A common example is fish oil capsules. On the OTC labels it may say 1000 mg per capsule. The most important component of the fish oil is omega-3 . In most OTC capsules, there may only be 200 to 400 mg omega-3 (EPA and DHA) per capsule. We want to take 1500 to 2000 mg of EPA and DHA per day. You’d have to take 5-10 of those OTC fish oil capsules per day. With a medical grade product you would be taking approximately two. Now the OTC product is much more expensive than the medical grade.

Another way OTC and MLM companies can fool the public is with RDA recommendations. RDA ( recommended daily allowance) recommendations are strictly used to determine how much of a vitamin is necessary to prevent a deficiency disease. Levels for optimum health are far greater than RDA requirements. Don’t let them confuse you.

Medical grade supplement companies require us as physicians, to fill out an application for an account to even sell the products, and in some cases, to even communicate with the company regarding information and dosage of the products. A copy of our current, active license is necessary to complete the application. Retail stores and online outlets are not required to do this.

The best way to determine what supplements you need and how much of them you need, is to have the right bloodwork done. Specific micronutrient testing can be done in the office. Once those results are in, we can see exactly what you need and which forms and amounts are best for you. Just by seeing an advertisement or talking to a friend, a supplement may not be right or even good for you.

Unlike medications that treat symptoms, and have dangerous side effects, medical grade supplements support the body to work properly. This way, once the right combinations are given, dangerous side effects will not exist.

For more on medical grade supplements, please call my office or visit my website.

Any questions regarding my articles please email me at
Leisa-Marie Grgula, D.C.
Chiropractic Physician
Accurate Care Pain Relief Center
21043 N. Cave Creek Rd. #A9
Phoenix, AZ 85024